Former pro-cyclist Doug Petty has been bringing cyclists to the Balearic island for more than 50 years to ride the famous hairpin bends on its spectacular mountain roads
Mallorca attracts more than 200,000 roadies a year. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are usually credited for popularising winter riding on this Spanish Balearic island, but it’s two others who really put the island on the cycling map, one of them quite literally, The Guardian reports.
1950s pro cyclist Doug Petty has been bringing cyclists to Mallorca every year for 51 years, and he’s been able to keep them coming because of the lure of two twisting roads built in the late-1920s by local engineer Antoni Parietti, who built the snaking carreteres to attract motor tourists. Sports car drivers still head to the Coll dels Reis and the Cap de Formentor mountain road, but the majority of those now skimming Parietti’s curves are pedal powered.
Petty started leading road-bike tours of Mallorca in 1968 and the sprightly 88-year-old is still doing so, with Parietti’s roads being the key draw.
Both are bucket-list climbs with killer sea views – and are usually bathed in sunshine, with advice from ride guides to “drink plenty of water.” But when I was there in mid-April, there was plenty of water falling from the sky.
Mallorca doesn’t usually get much rain, but it got plenty that week. I’d left the beach resort of Alcúdia at 6.30am to climb through the Unesco world heritage listed Tramuntana mountains to the top of the Coll dels Reis, wanting to get there before the crowds. Tourist coaches and fellow cyclists can clog the hairpins, I’d heard, but there were none when I was there. Unusually, this famous ascent has to be descended first. Parietti built the road to kick-start the tourist industry in the two-house fishing port of Sa Calobra, which then as now can only be otherwise reached by boat.
Mallorca has long been a tourist destination – composer Frédéric Chopin holidayed on the island as early as 1838 and the swashbuckling Errol Flynn wreaked havoc in the bars when he lived here in the 1950s. Of course, lager-fuelled swashbucklers of an altogether different kind swamped the package-tourism resorts of Magaluf and Palma Nova in the 1970s.
But in the off- and shoulder-seasons it’s now cyclists sustaining Mallorca’s rural economy, with the petrol filling stations on the main climbs surprisingly well stocked with energy gels and 700c inner tubes.
The Coll dels Reis climb – more usually known by the name of Sa Calobra – ascends to 668 metres over 9.4kms of supremely smooth tarmac. It has 26 hairpin bends, and, at the top, a bonkers bridge which loops over its own road, a 270-degree coil that kicks up the gradient from 7% to 11%. These aren’t tough inclines: the climb attracts riders because of the switchbacks not the steepness.
55,000 riders have logged their Sa Calobra climb times on Strava, with the fastest ascent taking just 24 minutes 54 seconds. Wiggins is said to have logged an even faster time during the preparation for his 2012 Tour de France victory, but he didn’t upload it.
I ascended Sa Calobra in 42.42 and would like to think I could ride it faster in more clement weather. At the top, and to prevent hypothermia, I bought a hot chocolate, but as the cafe was open to the elements there was no drying out of my wet kit.
The chilly return to Alcúdia was mostly downhill and, unlike earlier in the day, the road now heaved with cyclists, many of whom were no doubt heading to Sa Calobra. Rosa Simo, the manager of the Iberostar Playa de Muro hotel in Alcúdia, told me that 90% of the hotel’s 700 guests were cyclists. The hotel is known as a cycling hot-spot as it also hosts the annual Challenge Mallorca stage race, a pre-season favourite for pro teams. It was fabulous to clip-clop around an upscale hotel in Lycra and look perfectly normal.